Sunday, October 27, 2013

Vermont Visitors, Federal Budget Reprieve, Immigration Reform Next, Richmond Art Museum, Honduras, DR, Cholera, Sudan, Hesperian Health Guides, Baby’s Death, Adoption Plea, Nigerian Artist, Anthony Weiner Again, Happy Halloween

Don't know why typeface here came out blue--if it posts in blue, it's not my doing, but OK, let's leave it, just one more blogging mystery. If the intermittent blue type remains, it will provide an interesting checkerboard pattern.

Among the photos above is the flag outside the DR Embassy on Oct. 23, an international day of protest against the latest attempt in the Dominican Republic to strip people of Haitian descent of their citizenship (more on this issue below). These tactics remind me of the Tea Party’s attitude toward Hispanic immigrants and their offspring here. The stark white group statue stands next to the Indonesian Embassy, en route to the DR Embassy. Right next door, on the statue’s other side is the Portuguese Embassy, quite fitting, because Portugal, at Fatima, celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to three children, not unlike the three children viewing the Indonesian goddess. Religious folklore has consistent themes across religious, language, and geographic divides.

The other photos were taken by my friend Carol, a few years my junior, visiting DC with her husband. They loved the weekend outdoor Eastern Market and the Smithsonian museums, which had just reopened. Though we have not seen each other often over the years, we first met as children back in Vermont, where she is still living. She has invited me to attend her mother’s 99th birthday celebration there in January. I would like to be there, but also have Honduras coming up again in Feb. There may be another celebration for her 100th, but it might be tempting fate to postpone a trip until that time. Carol seemed fascinated by my bed, as can be seen, as well as my wall of masks collected from all over the world and display of degrees and awards. Readers will also recognize the exterior of my house, now about 115 years old. In the couch photo, we are holding photos of her own family to show her relatives back home.

 Last time, at the first attempt, my posting did not post, then, when it finally did post, the initial abortive attempt, consisting of only the headline, was no longer there. I don’t know if a good fairy or a real live blogspot person came to my rescue to erase the first attempt, hence my odd comment at the beginning of the last blog (if you even noticed it). How all this stuff works is a mystery to me, but I’m taking it on faith. [Blue is no longer appearing below on my screen.]

Whew! House Speaker John Boehner finally let the House vote and now we have a short reprieve before the whole battle starts up again. Or maybe the Republican Party establishment has had enough? It would be great if Tea Partiers had some wind knocked out of their sails, but the fight may have just whetted their appetite. Since they’re in safe districts, they face few constraints. Despite the end of the government shutdown, much damage has already been done. Boehner seemed willing to sacrifice the country and risk the world economy just to make sure he retained his speakership. A civil war is now raging within the Republican Party, which is fine with me.

Immigration reform is next and will be another test. It seems pretty obvious that if people are already here, living and working productively and raising US-born children, integrated into the national fabric however they got here, then we should welcome them because our economy and civic life need them. Unlike with new immigrants, there’s no need to put them through cumbersome immigration procedures and offer support services because they are already here, acclimated, and integrated into our system. Without them, we would be losing population, especially of working age, as is happening in Japan and some European countries. White Americans, once the demographic backbone, are not reproducing themselves in sufficient numbers.

 The day before the government shutdown finally ended, I went with an idled federal employee friend to visit her daughter attending college in Richmond, Virginia’s capital. It is a smallish but growing city (population 210,000) with a population somewhat younger and less affluent than the state as a whole with more affordable housing than in the DC area. It has an unhurried charm and some old-fashioned houses and buildings. We ate a crayfish sandwich at local eatery and saw the old statehouse and a row of monuments to southern civil war heroes, including Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. We also visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with a very respectable collection, including of African Art. We honed in especially on the Dorothy & Herbert Vogel exhibit, an eclectic collection of arts works acquired over decades by a childless NYC couple living in a cluttered one-bedroom apartment with their goldfish and pet cats. He was a postal worker, she a librarian. A video feed was shown of films made over the course of their collecting career and the gallery openings displaying their collected works. It shows Dorothy, the taller and more physically vigorous of the two, taking the lead. They only bought works they liked; also those they could carry home on the subway or in a cab. Their patronage helped propel many later well-known artists into prominence. Dorothy came for the Virginian Museum exhibit opening, as by now, Herbert has passed on. The story of their life and how they acquired their collection is almost more interesting than the art itself.

On Oct. 15, Honduran military police wearing camouflage and carrying high-caliber weapons invaded dangerous sectors of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the two largest cities, looking for wanted subjects, especially those connected with gangs. With presidential and other office elections coming up in November in Honduras, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, who was an outspoken cardinal when I was in the Peace Corps there, urged voters not be afraid to go out to vote, that their participation is needed. [Blue popped up again here, very interesting.]

 In the DR, as referred to above, there has been a disturbing high court ruling: and

See also NY Times: “Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court” (Oct. 24, 2013).
Although the DR Supreme Court has decreed that Dominican-born descendants of Haitians are not citizens, our local Spanish language press in DC says that DR President Danilo Medina has agreed to meet with spokespersons for Haitian-Dominicans. Could he overrule the court? On Oct. 23, in concert with people around the world, I attended in a demonstration at the Dominican Embassy in Washington, DC (as per flag outside the Dominican Embassy above).

 This is from Amnesty International’s London headquarters regarding the issue:

We share with you the Urgent Action AMR 27/014/2013 issued today by Amnesty International on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people at risk of being deprived of their nationality in the Dominican Republic and potentially being made stateless following the ruling issued last month by the Constitutional Court.

The cholera apparently spread to Haiti by Nepalese Peace Keepers—perhaps even by a single sick guy—with devastating effect, then moved over the border to the Dominican Republic and to Cuba, right after Cuban health workers had returned from service in Haiti. From Cuba, via tourists, it spread all over the world, though seemingly nipped in the bud in Europe. But from the Caribbean, it has now moved into Mexico and is approaching the US border. It may be spread inadvertently by people with no or only mild symptoms. So that possibly lone Nepalese soldier has made a worldwide impact.

 In Sudan, the oil-rich border region of Abyei is still in dispute and a promised referendum has not yet been held, so the residents of the region have decided to hold their own plebiscite to determine if they want to be part of North or South Sudan. From having been there myself in 2006, I would expect most wanting to go with the south. North Sudan’s President al-Bashir has indicated that holding a vote on the matter now would be premature, but recently seems to be yielding on the issue.

We returned Peace Corps volunteers gathered at a local watering hole near Howard University called “Cause Philathropub,” an enterprise that donates event proceeds, in whole or in part, to good causes. On that particular evening, we were celebrating the publication in multiple languages of health guides of the Hesperian Foundation, based in Pal Alto, California. I used 2 of them extensively when I was in Honduras: Donde de Hay Doctor (Where There Is No Doctor) and Aprendiendo a Promover la Salud (Learning Health Promotion).

 Sadly, I just got word that a child I had been trying to help has died. He was born last March with a severe harelip and cleft palate, on the very day I donated a wheelchair to a birthing center in Jesus de Otoro, a rural town in Honduras. The mother always had a hard time feeding him because he could not suck or swallow well. The family took him to a center in Tegucigalpa to arrange for him to have surgery, but the center staff found him insufficiently well-nourished to go ahead. The family was told he would have to become somewhat bigger and stronger before he could undergo surgery. But soon after they returned home, the baby died, whether of malnutrition or simple crib death, is not known. He was about 8 months old, so crib death seems unlikely. A family of little means and little education, like that one, struggling to comply with specialized feeding requirements and lacking the means to do so adequately, was in a catch-22 situation. The mother was expressing breast milk manually, not very efficient. The baby could not take in adequate nutrition because of his congenital problem and could not have it remedied because of the effects of that same problem. So, he has now died.  In the U.S. a child like that might have had a temporary feeding tube inserted. A reminder to would-be mothers: take your folic acid from the beginning of, or even before, a pregnancy. As a bereaved mother myself, I feel special sympathy for parents who lose a child at any age.

 Did you hear about a 15-year-old African American boy, who had been living for years in foster care now making a request for an adoptive family? Standing bravely before the congregation at Florida church, he said: "I'll take anyone. Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don't care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be." A teenage black boy is usually about the hardest type of child to place with an adoptive family, as people are often afraid to try to be parent a kid like that, given all the baggage he brings. Of course, since his plea went viral, thousands responded from all over the world. I hope he is able to find the right family.

 However, I also couldn't help thinking that as brave and sincere as that young man might be, now, at his age of 15, finding him a "forever" home now will not be a slam-dunk. Children who have been through a lot and are no longer babies usually have issues and need more than just a roof over their head and lots of love.

 A couple I know adopted an adorable 12-year-old girl from overseas. They showered her with activities and stuff and reported on their experiences on a blog. Of course, it was all fun and games at first. But when the blog went dark, I was pretty sure the honeymoon was over. I e-mailed the wife who said they were now in family therapy and struggling. It's as risky to give newly arrived kids the Disneyworld experience as it is to neglect them.

 I’ve previously mentioned Gabriela, a Romanian girl whose adoption I indirectly facilitated. She came to this country at age 7 after years of neglect in an orphanage. She has done beautifully since, in part because of her own spirit, but also because her parents, teachers, and therapists all gave her the right support. A good outcome doesn’t happen automatically.

 In that regard Reuters has revealed a practice of dumping older kids from overseas via the internet when their new adoptive families don’t work out. Desperate adoptive parents unable to handle a child seek out a new home on line and simply hand the youngster over. Like much internet traffic, such transactions are hard to police, but maybe now that the practice is known, steps can be taken to better protect kids.

Below is the Smithsonian’s description of my Nigerian artist visitor’s task here in DC, unfortunately interrupted by the federal government shutdown. He has traveled to NYC and Baltimore in the meantime but began running out of options to occupy his time productively. He is not familiar with preparing his own food in the kitchen—probably his wife or a maid does it at home—so I showed him how to use a microwave and turn on a gas burner. Unfortunately, he refuses to allow any images of his work to appear on Google and doesn’t have any e-mail images, so I’ve never actually seen his work.

Evaristus Chukwuemeka Obodo is a Nigerian-based artist who works in fiber, cloth and other soft materials. His goal for his research is to focus on the woven structure of textiles and to rethink fabric and fiber visually and in its manufacture. He plans to compare and contrast naturally woven structures such as bird nests and leaf vines with African textiles. He will concentrate on the National Museum of African Art, National Museum of Natural History and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum for his studies.

 Poor Evaristus, he not only had to buy a jacket because of cooler weather, but he is feeling a resurgence of the malaria from which he has suffered off and on throughout his life. It’s quite true that it’s not necessary to be bitten again by a malaria mosquito to suffer a recurrence, since the parasite may linger in the bloodstream. Fortunately for me, although I’ve had malaria more than once, I believe it’s only recurred through a new mosquito bite, as it only came back to me after decades when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras. However, because of having had it, I cannot give blood.

 This below from Anthony Weiner in a candid interview for CQ magazine regarding his wife and his apparent addiction to sexting:
"[H]er reputation has become the Woman Who Married an Idiot and Stuck with Him. More of it rolls off my back, because that's the way I am constitutionally. She's more sensitive. I'm just an empty, soulless vessel, so it doesn't hurt me as much."

 Finally, Happy Halloween to one and all!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Federal Budget Battle, Hospital Interpretation Patients, DR High Ct. Rules on Haitian Descendants, Homophobia, 5th Estate

Sorry, folks, if this didn't post just now. I have always been IT challenged. Will try again.
In these last 2 weeks, in some respects, life in DC is continuing as usual, but in other ways, it has practically become a ghost town. But now, as the debt limit default deadline nears, maybe there's finally a little movement--at least the two sides are talking about how to end it and save face collectively and allow each side still get something that they can cite as a victory. It might hurt Republicans in general or even in statewide elections, but Congressional districts are so gerrymandered that, unfortunately, Republican Congress members collectively have more clout than their proportion of the population merits, and many of them will be lauded for standing tough. I sincerely hope by the time readers see this blog, that the federal budget battle will be over for the time being.

As mentioned before, Avaristus, a Nigerian fabric artist, is staying temporarily at my home after being invited here by the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. He is very puzzled about the current political standoff, something not expected from the USA.  He thinks that if the “masses” rise up, politicians will take heed.

Because some of my hospital interpretation work is connected with NIH, it has been affected to some extent. Still, I have been working with some hospital outpatients. One woman told me that her 18-year-old daughter is going to college and has been granted temporary residence under Obama’s “Dream Act” for young people brought to the US before a certain age, provided that they are now enrolled in college full-time or in the military; she is, of course, very grateful that her daughter has that opportunity.  

Another woman patient from Bogota, Colombia, where I lived 2 ½ years as a teenager, was so nervous that I had to keep my hand on her forehead for a whole hour while cardiac MRI scans were performed. Still another woman at the same facility refused to enter the scanner, even though she was given a tranquilizer, so her test was cancelled. A patient who had worked as a nurse for 10 years in her native Bolivia, envied the nurse attending to her, as the only work she could get in this country has been cleaning houses.

See article below with self-explanatory title. The DR is one of the countries in my jurisdiction as volunteer coordinator for the Caribbean for Amnesty International USA. The DR Supreme Court has concluded that Dominican-born descendants of Haitians can be denied citizenship. Sounds like what some Tea Party types would like to see here regarding American-born descendants of Hispanic immigrants. However, our local Spanish language press in DC now says that DR President Danilo Medina has agreed to meet with spokespersons for Haitian-Dominicans.

Meanwhile, I recently attended a film opening for a short documentary "Love Heals Homophobia" focusing on interviews, mostly with African American pastors, citing biblical texts about loving one another to make the case that Christianity does not support marginalization of LGBT people. Afterward, I talked with a young Jamaican gay woman, Angeline Jackson, a "convener" for an organization called QCJ, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, She is a university student in IT and has not really been "out," but plans to be more visible when she returns from this U.S. visit. She said that most people she knows at the university and neighbors in her apartment building don't know that she is gay, though some may suspect. She is on guard at all times and tries to avoid public transportation. However, she believes that gay men face even more danger than gay women in Jamaica. Nonetheless, she plans to be more outspoken when she returns from the U.S. and said she would welcome contact and support from Amnesty International.

 About the Jamaican teenaage man killed recently for dressing as a woman at a party, she said that his family, who had rejected him, finally took possession of his body. But, as far as she knows, nothing has been done about searching for and punishing his killers, even though the president talks a good game and non-discrimination laws are on the books.

When I was in Hawaii, saw movie trailer for the new film “The Fifth Estate” about Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Now, I see the film is out and the fierce objections that Assange is making from his Ecuadorian refuge are only giving the film more publicity. I suspect that not only is he getting really tired of living there, but the embassy folks are probably getting pretty tired of having him.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Keeping Shoes On, Pesky Mushrooms, A 6th Birthday, Navy Yard Shooting, Nairobi Mall Attack, Cuban Prisoner on Hunger Strike, A Whole Town Is Shutdown, Peacenik Putin, Interpreter as Comforter, Facebook Pal Gabriela from Romania


My great-grandson, De’Andre, is now 6. I cannot believe it (see photos above).

On my last plane trip, I happened to notice a sign I’d not seen before, saying that people 75 and older don’t have to take off their shoes going through security. So, that’s one less thing I have to do.  Statistically, the odds of a person over 75 being a shoe bomber are probably very slight.
In Hawaii, the geikos on my daughter’s kitchen walls reminded me of Honduras.
 What do you do about flowerpot mushrooms that keep popping up overnight?  Just keep in plucking them out, I guess.
Last time, I failed to mention the mass shooting at the Navy Yard near my home on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. At the time it happened, I was actually in Honolulu, a much gentler place. It’s another example of the results of failure to enact simple, common -sense background checks and registration requirements, which a majority of Americans support. But apparently the gun lobby, anxious to sell weapons, thwarts these measures at every turn through threats and campaign contributions to lawmakers, taking advantage of people’s fear after a mass shooting to sell even more weapons as a result.  I don’t think most Americans love their gun rights more than their lives, but unless there is some control over who may own and use a firearm, we are all at risk, especially in any place where people congregate.
 Of course, right after I came home, the Nairobi terrorist attack occurred. I’m fairly sure I was at that mall in 2006, on my way to Sudan, when I was taken there to show it off to me.

Last time, I mentioned a Cuban Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Ivan Fernandez, (shown above) who has been on a hunger strike since July 30. A former Cuban political prisoner who lives in the DC area tells me he is getting an IV solution, which, while not a substitute for food, can keep someone alive, if not very well, for some time.

There may indeed be kinks in “Obamacare,” but since it is already law, they should be remedied to make it work better, rather than setting up obstacles designed to thwart it completely and make it fail. Shouldn’t we want everyone to have the health care coverage that most of us have already? The kinks will become more evident when it is actually underway, allowing future tweaks in the original law (and future fights, no doubt). Any measure so complicated and with so many interest groups involved is bound to need revision. But we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as providing more universal health coverage for Americans is a worthy goal. Frankly, I would have considered preferable a single-payer federally administered health care system, a much more straightforward, comprehensible, and less administratively costly alternative, something more like Medicare, but it was not to be. There’s a cartoon showing the Obamacare train chugging along full speed while gloating Republicans, including an elephant, have removed the tracks ahead, warning, “It’s a train wreck!” Short of outright repeal, the efforts to derail the law help no one except perhaps Tea Party Republicans like Ted Cruz who has cruised to fame on its coattails—just to mix metaphors. Where is pay-back for Democrats, many of whom weren’t crazy about GW Bush’s Rx drug scheme? Once it passed, they didn’t keep trying to sabotage it.

Of course, the sun still rose on the morning of Oct. 1, but many damaging effects of the federal government shutdown are definitely being felt in this town with so many federal employees, monuments, and museums. It’s been pretty devastating all over in the DC area, where the federal workforce is concentrated. The daily loss to the local economy is estimated to be running at $200 million per day, providing our citizens with a truly manmade calamity—I say “manmade” advisedly because most of those actually causing this totally unnecessary calamity are men. Even in faraway Hawaii, my son-in-law, doing research and interventions to save the endangered native Silver Sword plant, has had to stop because so much of his work takes place inside national parks.
 A tweet has been making the rounds:

Can I burn down your house? No

Just the second floor? No

Garage? No

Let’s talk about what I can burn down. No

You aren’t compromising!

While some lawmakers have announced they are donating or deferring their paychecks, not so, two Republican Congress members who voted to shut down the government, Kevin Cramer of ND and Renee Elmer of NC, who said they needed the money and were continuing to work. Under pressure, Elmer changed her mind and said she would defer her paycheck after all.
 Republicans’ tactics remind me of the Solid South’s resistance to racial integration. They saw integration coming but held it off as long as possible and many are still fighting that old fight by saying that Obama is a Muslim and born in Kenya. Likewise, many of the same folks are resisting immigrants’ rights, gay rights, and restrictions on gun ownership even though they know they are coming. Of course, I guess if I felt as they do, I would do the same. Once this recalcitrant generation passes on, political skirmishes on these matters will let up, but others will no doubt take their place. I like what Republican Congressman Michael Grimm of NY said, “If anyone is not essential, it’s the U.S. Congress.” Amen to that. I hope the Democrats will benefit in the next election, though most of the hardheads are in very safe conservative districts, where constituents are probably egging them on.  Maybe we need a parliamentary form of government!

Now some face-saving plan must be fabricated  and accepted, something that allows Republicans to say, “We fought the good fight and we got something out of it.” Maybe it’s the elimination of the tax on medical devices, even though that increases the debt ? Maybe Obama should say, OK, he’ll offer a one-month delay on the start of Obamacare, even though that would hurt some people waiting anxiously for coverage, anything to let Republicans say, “We fought Obamacare and we won a concession.”  Of course, Obama doesn’t want to set a precedent of rewarding recalcitrant political behavior by allowing a de facto change in the way that laws have always been enacted. Really, if your side loses, you have lost on an issue, and should move on to the next.

Meanwhile, poor Evaristus, a father of four and a Nigerian fabric artist staying at my house, was nvited by the Museum of African Art to do research on its collection. But now the museum is closed. How to explain that?
This may seem like nitpicking, but last time, I mentioned a woman born in Peru, now living in Spain, who just could tolerate staying at our house and how grateful I was that she had left. Now the room that she had briefly occupied is home to Evaristus, who spent some time in a hostel waiting for me to come back from Hawaii so he could move in. But, it appears, the pillow cases that went with the sheets for his bed (previously her bed) are nowhere to be found. Did the disgruntled lady take them, accidentally or on purpose? In any case, that adds insult to injury regarding that distressing and fortunately unique saga.

Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize? A Russian advocacy group has actually nominated him, believe it or not.
While it’s not possible to have a personal companion available to comfort everyone during a scary medical procedure, it certainly has helped my interpretation patients feel calm and protected when I am with them every step of the way, providing an extra bonus for non-English speakers . Usually family members—except sometimes in the case of children—are not allowed the same access that I have because I’ve undergone certain prior medical clearances and instructions. Of course, medical personnel are also with patients, but those folks are busy sticking in needles and IVs, taking EKGs, doing scans, and drawing blood, so the patient—at least in my experience—actually relies on the interpreter for moral support, especially since the patient doesn’t speak the same language as the practitioners and cannot directly express concerns.  Patients often grab my hand during and afterward and thank me profusely for standing by them—some even try to give me money later, which, of course, I can’t accept. I always tell them: “Es mi placer y mi deber,” that is, “It’s my pleasure and my duty.” Of course, with the government shutdown looming, that affects the work of NIH, which schedules many of my patients.
Amazingly, through Facebook, I’ve reconnected with Gabriela, a Romanian orphan adopted by a Minnesota family.  When I was working at the American Occupational Therapy Association, I was invited to Romania to evaluate children’s institutions in the post-Ceausescu era. Of course, they were in dismal condition then, as has been documented by others. When I returned, I wrote an article for our association magazine, OT Week, that including a photo of a little girl living in one of the institutions.  A Minnesota family saw the photo, fell in love with the child, and eventually managed to adopt her (after a 2-year struggle). Among the many services she required after her adoption was occupational therapy. She became such a success story that we invited her and her mother to one of our annual conferences, where, as still an elementary school child, she boldly took over the mike and answered questions from the sea of occupational therapists out in the audience. Now, according to her photos on Facebook, she is a lovely young woman with a devoted boyfriend (also pictured) and is a student of Spanish and math at the University of Minnesota (my parents’ alma mater) and also tutors other students in math. She and I have exchanged messages in Spanish. Actually, Romanian and Spanish are both Latin-based languages, so are not so very different. When Gabriela arrived in the US at age 7, she refused to speak Romanian ever again, but perhaps some memory of it has remained in her young brain and has helped her to master Spanish.